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Travelling around the Peloponnese in Greece


More Adventure travel tales in Greece:
Samos
Athens
Nafplion
Monemvasia
Olympia
Other Southern European Tales:
Ruins of Pompeii, Italy
Florence, Italy
Venice, City of Water
Cappadocia, Turkey
Selçuk, Turkey


Local people on a bench in Sparta

For most people, Greece means Athens, plus a lot of holiday islands. But the Peloponnese peninsula has a lot to offer as well. We used public transport in the off seaon to find our way around nice towns and historic sites.

Narrow gauge train

Athens has two different train stations, located close to one another. This is because the rail tracks on the southern peninsula of Greece, the Peloponnese, have a narrow gauge, as opposed to the tracks in the rest of Greece (and Europe, for that matter). Consequently, the trains are not very modern, but the train ride is pleasant, especially after we pass the dirty outskirts of Athens.

We have nice views over the sea, with a few islands in front of the coast. Then the large peninsula comes in sight, and a little later we cross the Corinth channel to the Peloponnese. The sea disappears and is replaced by a nice hilly landscape. When the water re-appears on the horizon, we first think it’s a lake, but it appears to be the Bay of Nafplion. Not long after that we arrive in Greeces old capital Nafplion with its three Greek forts, where we will stay for a few days.

From Nafplion we make a daytrip to the ruins of the oldest ancient Greek city Mycenae, before we move on. When we step on the early bus from Nafplion we actually don’t know where we are going to today. Our wish is to go to Olympia, but in Tripolis we understand that the bus in that direction only leaves at 6.30 PM, a little late for us. So we choose Plan B, we walk to the second bus station of Tripolis, from where the buses leave for Monemvasia via Sparta. Especially the last part of that route is particularly slow. The bus passes every village it can find, winding itself through narrow streets. But eventually we can see the sea again, and the huge rock in front of the coast on which Monemvasia is located.

After spending a day in Monemvasia, we hop on the bus to bring us to Olympia. But, in Sparta we understand that to reach Olympia we would have to go back to Tripolis. The only alternative is to go to Kalamata first. But we have to wait in Sparta for over three hours to catch that bus. Time enough to visit the ruins of ancient Sparta.

Sparta

Statue of King Leonidas of ancient SpartaSparta once was a powerful city, mainly know for its tough soldiers. The famous Spartan education consisted of military school from the age of 7, and all was aimed at being a good soldier. It made the city famous, although the city was not as mighty as one would expect. And all that is left now, are ruins.

After a long walk through the outskirts of modern Sparta, we arrive in a hilly landscape. Here and there are blocks of stone laying around, and a piece of a wall is excavated. But the might city of Sparta is now mainly dominated by the olive trees of the plantation that surrounds it. At the larger ruins, like the amphitheatre, the blocks are arranged in nice rows. But even less than at other ruins we saw, we believe that the buildings will be reconstructed here.

The only other visible remainder of the past is a statue of the famous Spartan king Leonidas. But instead of having a prominent position in the city center, it is situated in front of the soccer stadium, near the ruins. The center of Sparta is nowadays dominated by a quiet central square, with a nice orthodox church on one side. The contrast with the once so tough Spartan soldiers couldn’t be much bigger.

Nice mountain route

Road through the central mountain range of the PeloponneseWhen the bus finally leaves Sparta at 14.30 PM, it doesn’t take long before it reaches the mountains. zKalamata is not far as the crow flies, but it is on the other side of the central mountain range of the Peloponnese. The higher the bus climbs over the hair pin turns, the nicer the views. The trees have beautiful autumn colors, contrasting with the grey mountains and blue sky. We pass several mountain villages, where now and then someone leaves the bus. We even have to change buses in the middle of the route. Eventually, the bus descends from the mountains and we arrive in Kalamata.

Kalamata is a provincial town with an old, but not very special center. It also has a nice waterfront, but that’s too far for us to explore. For us, it’s the endpoint of the railway track over the Peloponnese, where we can take the train to Olympia in the morning. Before that, we have dinner in a nice restaurant, where we are invited to have a look in the kitchen. But that’s about all we undertook here.

Strange train system

Upon arrival in the early morning at the train station of Kalamata, the train appears to only have one small carriage. We take a seat and enjoy the easy ride. All of a sudden, the train decides to move in the other direction, and we are obviously going the wrong way. But not for long, we arrive at a train station where we have to change trains, which is going in the right direction again. A strange collection of tracks (apparently in a Z shape), but after 3 hours we arrive in Pyrgos.

From Pyrgos there is supposed to leave a train for Olympia. But, the lady at the counter yells at us that we have to take a bus. So much for Greek hospitality, which disappears as soon as people have a job to inform customers. As we walk to the bus station, the bus approaches us, and we can hop in. Half an hour later, we arrive at the popular, but very difficult to reach destination Olympia.

After reliving Olympic history in Olympia, we take the bus back to Pyrgos, and from there the train to Diakofto. On this part of the route, we can take an intercity train, which means we have to buy a reservation as well as a ticket. The reservation, which is bought at the same time, is more expensive than the ticket, and according to us the train is not much different from the one we had before.

Rack and Pinion railway

Rack and pinion railway between Diakofto and KalavrytaDiakofto is the starting point of a unique railway, a steep one up the mountains to Kalavryta. By means of a rack and pinion system it climbs the steep path along the beautiful Vouraikos gorge.

Upon arrival in Diakofto we need to hurry to buy tickets in time before the train to Kalavryta leaves. And then we take place in the last one of the two carriages on both sides of the engine. The carriages are small and it’s a good thing there are only two other people in ours, otherwise we would have had a problem with our backpacks.

After a few minutes of waiting the train starts shaking before it moves. The first part of the track is still flat, but it appears as if the train has difficulties even with this part. We move along the fruit trees to the beginning of the gorge, where for the first time we see the river that will accompany us along the ride.

After we have passed a few tunnels we arrive at the first steep part. The train stops to hook its cogwheel in the rack rail here, in order to pull the train up. The gorge gets narrower, and the river more wild, while the train crosses it a few times . We move underneath hanging cliffs for long parts, and the views are great.

When we arrive at the second steep part, something goes wrong. We move back and forth, there’s inspection of the engine and cogwheel, there’s a lot of talking, and then we try again. This time we reach halfway, but then we stop and move back again. We are made clear that it’s impossible to move on, and we have to wait for another train.

Luckily, it’s not a bad environment to wait, and after an hour a second train arrives. The steep part goes well now, but on the parts without a rack rail, the wheels are spinning and the train hardly moves forward. But we manage, and with an hour delay we arrive at Kalavryta.

Historic skiing village

Church of KalavrytaKalavryta is a mountain village with an important history for Greece. Here is where the Greek war for independence started in 1821. Other than that, it was also the center of resistance in the second world war, which resulted in the slaughtering of 1000 local men as a German retribution. One of the two clocks of the church is still showing the time of this Massacre of Kalavryta.

Nowadays Kalavryta is mainly a wintersport resort. The ski slopes, however, are 14 km from the town, and there is no public transport to them in the absence of snow. We are in between summer and winter season, so this place is deserted as well. The hotels are open, however, although it might take some time before we find someone with the right keys. We check in, and try to find a restaurant.

Since there is not much of interest in this season, we decide to move on the next day. The train back to Diakofto goes in the afternoon, so we decide to take the bus to Patras instead. But when we arrive at the bus station, it appears abandoned. There are a number of parcels on the ground, but the ticket booth is closed. There is a jacket hanging on the wardrobe, and the toilet automatically flushes every few minutes. Apart from us, there is one elderly woman apparently waiting for the bus, and a man walks in and out several times. Both do not speak English, so we cannot discuss the situation.

The departure time of the bus passes, and the woman gives up and leaves. We stay, and learn a bit of the Greek parcel service. Once in a while someone walks in, has a look at the parcels, and leaves with one or two of them. A man walks in, puts something on the counter, and throws a coin over into the ticket booth. We can only guess how it works, it all seems a bit strange to us. More than an hour after the departure time of our bus, we give up as well and decide to take the train.

It is crowded at the train station. It’s Saturday and a nice day for Greek people to take a day tour on the famous train. Both of the carriages are full, and we are the only ones without a camera, we took our pictures the day before. Maybe it’s the nice weather, the good spot on the train, the enthusiasm around us, or the better view going down instead of up, but the ride is even better than the day before. We enjoy it very much, and are happy that the bus to Patras didn’t go.

In Diakofta, we hop on the train to Patras, from where we will take a ferry to Italy. So here ends our trip through the Peloponnese. A nice trip, with visits to beautiful cities, ruins, and nature. It was a great experience, despite or in some cases thanks to the limited possibilities of public transport here.

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